Setback

Well, gosh. First and foremost, thank you so much for all your kind comments last week, on the blog, in person and over e-mail. You really know how to make a lady feel loved. Second, sorry for not coming back sooner to share good food. See, remember how I complained about my back? It turns out it wasn’t a pulled muscle, but a tear in the cartilage in my lower back. To answer the two questions you are now asking: Yes, it does hurt; quite a bit, and yes, they gave me some excellent pain killers. I’m also going to an acupuncturist twice a week and am being treated with Chinese herbal medicine. I’m seeing the surgeon on Thursday.

I’ve also been working on another project which I hope to share with you soon…

Anyhow, I stayed home from work for a better portion of the week with a heating pad pressed against my back. It hurts to sit for too long, so then I stand for a little bit, until that hurts… you get the picture. All this back pain has kept me out of the kitchen. This afternoon I stood by the counter and prepped some roots for roasting, and about 5 minutes in I had to call it quits and Rich kindly took over the project.

So the recipe I have for today has been vetted by me, but has been prepared by my sous chef Rich. (I know, I tell people all the time I won the husband lottery.) This morning I woke up to the scent of household cleaning supplies as he had spent the morning cleaning the kitchen, the bathrooms, and was onto his second load of laundry.

It had been very cold last week, and this recipe would have been perfect if I had made it then. Of course, we are now experiencing the “January thaw” Old-Time New England Cookbook talks about, although there’s been nary a snowflake to melt.

Now, about this recipe: It’s a mushroom barley soup from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, which I feel is one of those desert-island cookbooks. The first time I used this recipe was in my early twenties, when a guy I had a crush on off-handedly mentioned he loved mushroom barley soup. I “coincidentally” showed up the next day with a gallon Ziploc bag full of it. Good stuff.

When most people think of mushroom barley soup, they think of something thick and porridge-like.  This is more of a broth with chewy bites of barley and mushrooms. I’ve altered the recipe a little bit for the reflux: removing the sherry, and changing the soy sauce to tamari to create a second layer of umami, as both the mushrooms and the tamari are chockfull of it. The result is almost meaty, even though the dish is completely vegetarian. (It could also be made vegan by substituting oil for butter.) The mushrooms used here are white button; nothing fancy. The onions are slowly sautéed in a separate pan until they are translucent and have lost their bite, as was done to the garlic. I’ve also eliminated the fresh black pepper Katzen calls for. If someone at your table finds it lacking, just make sure the grinder is nearby. But honestly, this soup doesn’t need it.

With a slice of leftover challah, this made a very nice lunch. I used a small, handmade bowl, which was about 1/3 smaller than a regular soup bowl. You have to be careful not to eat large portions with the reflux; an overstuffed stomach can cause a lot of discomfort.

Mushroom Barley Soup Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook

Preparation Time: 1 ¼ hours

Ingredients

½ cup uncooked barley

6 ½ cups water

1-2 Tbs. butter

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. mushrooms, sliced*

½ to 1 tsp. salt

4 Tbs. tamari

Directions

Place the barley and 1 ½ cups of the water in a large saucepan, or a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, over, and simmer until the barley is tender. (20 to 30 minutes).

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the onions and sauté them until they are completely translucent but not browned. Add garlic, mushrooms, and ½ tsp. salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is very tender. About 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in tamari.

Add the sauté with all its liquid to the cooked barley, along with the remaining 5 cups of water. Simmer, partially covered, another 20 minutes over very low heat. Taste to correct seasonings, and serve.

*I realize that the packages of button mushrooms are 10 ounces, so if you’re using one of those, reduce the water by a cup, and the tamari by 1 Tbs.

Ummmmami

Not the prettiest of dishes, but I get giddy when I think about how it tastes.

In kindergarten I learned that I had four different taste buds on my tongue, and to prove it, Mrs. S. put salt, sugar and lemon juice on their designated spots on the front and sides. I must have blocked out what we used to taste bitter, and maybe that’s why, on some level, I’ve never gotten used to bitter things like hops and mustard.

That lesson in tastes stuck with me for the next 20 years, and I would dance salty, sweet and sour foods into their “sweet spots” in my mouth. Well, usually. I always did have a little trouble deciding where to roll a Sour Patch Kid. And then, everything changed.  Even though it had been discovered nearly 100 years ago, Umami, roughly translated from the Japanese to mean “meaty” or “savory,” started making headlines about three years ago. Umami occurs naturally in foods like meat, parmesan cheese, soy, red wine, MSG, anchovies and mushrooms. And it is this taste sensation that has me loving this dish.

I make up excuses to cook this stew. We would eat it every week if I didn’t think Rich would mind. The potatoes always get cooked to a perfect velvety texture, and the mushrooms, cooked in the soy and sherry, feel as rich as meat on my tongue. I’ve actually recently read about a new taste, Kokumi,  but I’ll hold onto my umami and savor this dish.

This Chinese vegetable stew is hearty, and I’ll admit, not the prettiest of dishes. The vegetables don’t retain any of their crispness or their color. They turn soft from the slow cooking and get quite dark from the soy sauce. But did I mention how delicious this stew is? Try and keep potatoes on hand at all times, stored in dark cool place, and far away from onions, which will spoil the potatoes more quickly. Although I’ve stuck to button mushrooms for this recipe, dried shiitake mushrooms (which can be found at OSJL for $2 a package) will work great.

Potato Stew from Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking(serves 4-6)

Two notes about this recipe:

  1. Although it calls for carrots, I leave them out because they hurt my tummy. I am sure they taste delicious in this recipe.
  2. I don’t actually have sherry on hand, but have used sherry vinegar and am delighted with the results.

Ingredients

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

2 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger, lightly crushed (I use my frozen ginger root, and just take it out of the freezer for about 10 minutes before I cut off the slices)

3/4 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths

Cook's Illustrated Tip: Line up your green beans and you'll only need one cut

2 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1 1/2 inch-long segments

6 ounces mushrooms (if possible, with approximately 1 1/2-inch caps)

1/4 cup Chinese dark soy sauce

2 cups water

4 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons shaohsing wine or dry sherry (or sherry vinegar)

Heat the oil in an 8-inch-wide, heavy-bottomed pot over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the garlic and ginger. Stir and fry for 15 seconds. Add the potatoes, beans and carrots. Stir and fry for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms. Stir and fry for another minute. Now put in 2 cups water, the soy sauce, sugar and wine. Bring to boil.

Cover, lower heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are just tender. Remove cover and turn heat to high. Boil away most of the liquid.

You should have about 1/8 inch of sauce left at the bottom of the pot. Stir the vegetables gently as you boil the liquid down. Remove the ginger and garlic, if you like.